Warren Germond wasn't the brightest kid by any stretch. And his head was pointy, a cartoon of a nuclear nosecone. With his parents and little brother, Nicky, he lived in a cramped two-bedroom brick ranch plunked onto a quarter acre of Rhode Island crabgrass and dandelions.
When he was arrested, caught red-handed spray painting a fleet of school busses with swastikas and hammer-and-sickles that August night, tears of inchoate adolescent rage flooded in his eyes as smirking cops led him away, the can of black Krylon on the parking lot tarmac, forgotten.
"C'mon, punk! Don't be a crybaby!" said the officer directly behind him, kicking Warren in the ass, good and hard, right on the tailbone, sending white razors into the teen's eyes. "What's up with all that commie jazz, anyway, asshole?! My brother's in Vietnam, asshole!" the cop bellowed, following with another well-placed kick. Touchdown!
They shoved the miscreant into the back of a patrol car, its rooftop light twirling, slicing the night, before the driver hit the siren, gunned it to headquarters.
(Warren had little chance of getting a date with any girl, let alone Lisa Maroni, that stuck-up rich blonde on Olympus Drive. A date? She never would've given him the time of day for all the "16" magazines in the world, prior. But after this?! Better get a Timex, kid. On the verge of seventh grade, the preteen queen of her purview has her pick of the litter, no time for a mangy old mutt with a rap sheet.)
Roused from a warm bed, Mr Germond drove downtown, seeing red. In three quick strides he entered the police station, saw Warren sitting stupidly on the oak bench, and socked him in the mouth with two quick punches - a left, a right - to the delight of the cops.
"You snotty little cocksucker!" he hissed at his son, eyes squinting in fury and humiliation.
Since dropping out of high school at the first opportunity last year, Warren whiled away the days drinking grape soda, sniffing glue, watching TV, thumbing through comic books, smoking the Tareytons he swiped from his mom's purse, and sneaking out of the house at night so he could jerk off outside Lisa Maroni's house, hidden by a tree, a sightline to her bedroom as she undressed before lights out. Only about ten feet away from him, she had stripped naked, head to toe, illuminated in stunning detail, night after night, all summer long. What a show! He couldn't believe his tremendous luck. Thank God someone planted this big fat tree right here! It was his special tree, a friend of sorts.
Someday, someday soon, he'd marry her. Maybe her parents will fly to Rome or Paris, and their plane will crash, orphaning Lisa? He'd step right up! They'd drive to one of those hillbilly states where they could tie the knot, all legal and moral and shit, a Johnny Reb preacher man to officiate. Or, maybe, after he introduces himself, after she gets to know him a bit, gets to see the wonders that are Warren, he'd move into her bedroom? During the day he could hide in her closet or under the bed. Or something. At night? Heaven! Paradise on earth...
O! For that first night together, losing their virginity in total communion, as one with each other... She was so beautiful, like one of those magazine fashion models.
When we're married, I'll have Nicky move in with us. Just us three in the lap of luxury on Olympus Drive, looking down on the peasantry below, looking down on mom and dad. Fuck 'em, the finks!
Married to Lisa... They'd dine in downtown Pawtucket, at Chez Pierre's, all fine and fancy. After dining, a gentle rain falling, they'd walk, no need for an umbrella. "Let it rain!" They'd laugh, holding hands.
A loner, Warren Germond, a.k.a. Germ, had no friends. Even before he dropped out, he'd been friendless. All he had were some distant heroes: Johnny Unitas, Richard Speck, Hugh Hefner, Lee Harvey Oswald. And Jay & The Americans. Of course, Jay & The Americans. He'd shoplifted all their records, even wore velour pullovers with lace-up necks, just like theirs. In front of the bathroom mirror, Germ struck poses a la Jay, combed his hair like Jay.
Seated, staring straight ahead, in the pale-blue Chevy Biscayne on the trek back, father and son didn't speak, but every so often, without warning, Mr Germond struck out, socking his boy on the temple, on the ear, on the jaw. (Like Candid Camera, it was when you least expected it.) Germ detested his father, and he detested the Chevy. It was so bush. Biscaynes rot. It didn't even have white walls. He was kind of used to getting punched by his dad, but a Biscayne? That was no class.
The Chevy pulled into the gravel driveway, they got out and trudged into the house, wordlessly. Mrs Germond sat on the plastic-covered chintz living-room sofa in a bathrobe and pink fluffy slippers, lights off, TV on, it sending ghastly bluish shadows dancing across the yellowing wallpaper.
"How could you do this to us?!" she wept, her voice tight and croaky. Warren hated that voice, hated her voice in general, but really hated it when it got like that, like some old scrubwoman's. Why couldn't he have boss parents? Parents with a cool house and a cool car?
"What will the neighbors say?!" she sobbed.
"FUCK THE NEIGHBORS!"
In a flash, Mr Germond moved in for the kill, all fists and feet, pummeling the kid, knocking him on his hip, punching and kicking without a plan, a hurricane unleashed. Warren crawled towards the front door, but his dad jumped ahead of him, blocking the exit.
"DON'T YOU DARE SPEAK TO YOUR MOTHER LIKE THAT! AFTER ALL WE DONE FOR YOU? YOU LITTLE SHIT!"
In the background, the TV prepared to go off-air for the night, the nation's tuneless anthem playing, a B&W flag waving, followed by the test pattern.
"AND I GOTTA GO TO WORK IN A FEW HOURS! WHEN THE GUYS AT THE PLANT HEAR ABOUT THIS? I'LL BE A LAUGHING STOCK!"
The torrential assault on Germ continued. Face grimaced, Mr Germond was back in the South Pacific, in hand-to-hand combat with some stinking slimy Jap.
A rib cracked. Even with the door shut, Nicky, now wide awake, could could hear it, clearly, in the bedroom the two brothers shared. He covered his head with the pillow, shut his eyes with all the might the ten-year-old could muster, wished he were in Hollywood, in the arms of Ann Margaret.
"STEVEN!!! STOP IT!!! YOU'RE MURDERING HIM!!!"
Mr Germond paused, icy palm to sweaty forehead, gulping for air like a fish on land. Not a word was uttered for an eternity until Warren, prostrate on the foyer linoleum, whimpered, "I'm... I'm sorry..." Germ's face was to the welcome mat, hiding his tears, but convulsing shoulders betrayed him.
"All right... Get up... Act like a man, not a crybaby..."
"Okay..." Germ gasped, trying to collect his thoughts as emotions raged inside his chest like a racing pack of rabid hyenas.
A minute or two later, on his feet, wobbly, he leaned against the wall with an outstretched hand, stared down at the umbrella stand, nearly puking into it. His other hand gingerly tested his ribcage, he winced in pain, almost fainted. Taking a deep breath, he winced again.
"But just one thing..." he said.
"What's that?" Mr Germond said, still panting, a sliver of mercy entering the steely voice.
There was a long parched silence, the clock on the wall tick-tocked minutes away... Mr and Mrs Germond stood stock still, Warren breathed huskily.
Finally, the teenager cleared his throat, twice, took a breath, then screeched, "YOU'RE A DIPSHIT, THAT'S WHAT! FUCK YOU! AND FUCK YOUR STUPID JOB, TOO! WHYN'TCHA GET A GOOD JOB?! LIKE MR MARONI?! HE'S AN ARCHITECT, NOT SOME LOUSY FACTORY SLOB!"
With that, Warren ducked past his stunned parents, sprinted through the living room, into the dingy kitchen, sneakers skidding on worn tiles. He banged into the Formica table, knocked over a chair, and dodged out the back door, tears streaming down his face, into the yard, then the woods. His parting words were, "GET LAID, ASSHOLES!"
It was a starless night, as dark as Germ's heart. But he'd grown up here, had spent countless hours in these woods, knew his way, didn't stumble, didn't fall. No way his pop could follow him in the pitch black through this thicket, the stupid old bastard. Warren was free. For now.
Making tracks, he circled around, across the Edwards' front yard, behind old man Roberts' tool shed, up the hill, trotting a quarter-mile until he came to the Maroni's. Warren's breathing was heavy, his side was killing him. In Keds he was quiet as a ghost rounding the corner to Olympus Drive. The air was thick with humidity and crescendos of chorusing crickets. Their sound, that August harbinger of September school days, depressed him, even after he'd dropped out. Just the thought of school put him in a funk. Horribly dyslexic, Germ never stood a chance at anything other than shop class. A spazz, he nearly flunked gym. His fever wasn't underachiever, that was the province of the high IQ kids who failed to thrive. Warren wasn't a retard, but he skirted those waters. Reading Dear Abby was a chore.
Set back from the road, its front protected from view by willow trees, the Maroni manse was modern, clean, untouchable, like something on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, its driveway sealed, smooth as Persian silk. Inside the attached two-car garage sat a Lincoln and a Thunderbird. The spread was a dollop of Beverly Hills in Pawtucket, RI.
Mr Maroni, an amateur jazz musician, kept a set of vibes in his studio. He could improvise cogent swinging choruses of standards like, "How High the Moon" and "A Night in Tunisia." As a young bachelor in Boston he'd been a denizen of the bop scene, sat in with visiting luminaries like Stan Getz and Fats Navarro without disgracing himself - still a cocktail party conversation point-of-pride for him. But that was some time ago, the early-fifties. Today he had a wife and kid, a thriving architectural business in Providence. Ending a long day, he spat a mouthful of Colgate foam into the bathroomsink, rinsed, turned off the light on his way out.
Beside his special tree, Warren pulled back a rock and grabbed a six-inch hunting knife, the kind with a serrated edge, removing it from its leather sheath. He'd stashed it there weeks ago, after nicking it from Anderson's Hardware.
For the first time that night, the clouds cleared, revealing a full moon, the stars shining bright. Crouching, Warren crept across the silvery lawn, his shadow sharp, the blade glinting.
At Lisa's window, Warren peered in, watched her sleeping, the sheet kicked back, her slim legs bare and apart. Blonde hair spilled, obscured those limpid green eyes. His breath caught as he stared at the girl for a spell, left hand clutching the knife, right hand on her window sill. Through the screen he could smell her room, could smell her: she was so close, so very close, but he had to get closer, next to her, on top of her, inside her, she moaning in ecstasy, begging - begging like a hungry dog! - for more... Unconsciously, his hips began to gyrate, hump...
Dizzied by her moonlit beauty, so perfect in every way, Warren began to cry. He whispered something.
Then, hearing a sharp metallic click behind him, he swung around instantly, his knife hand jabbing and slashing, blindly through the tears, into the night.